(Photograph is of buildings on Park Avenue near 51st Street)
I was fortunate to have 8 glorious days in the enigmatic city of New York last month, staying with my brother and sister in law who have called Manhattan home for 13 years. This visit was my first to the US and marked the final leg of a month away from my own family. And my own bed. I was buffered from feeling too overwhelmed at the city’s intensity and size by my street savvy hosts.
Magic hovers over New York City, a sense that anything could happen. This is exacerbated by the many layers of inhabitants living harmoniously (from what I could see) on top of each other. There are no free standing homes in this part of the world. The towering apartment blocks could pass as drawers that you pull out and shut once their occupants are home.
NYC’s insouciant locals are not fazed by anything, keeping to themselves but not in an arrogant way. They have a sense of being comfortable in their own space. There is a mutual respect not to covert other people’s space, which is highly evident when you are riding the subway and may have your nose very close to someone’s armpit! (taller people would fare better than I did in this situation)
Being in New York evoked many emotions: I was overwhelmed, awestruck, at times feeling playful, intrigued and above all alive to the moment. My senses were attuned to the clamour and the polite chaos, the white noise of honking traffic peppered with bright yellow taxis as they slowly snaked their way round this magnificent city.
I could have been walking through the page of a Dr Zeuss children’s book; the huge skyscrapers at odd angles playing tricks with my sense of perspective. Feeling childlike myself, dwarfed by the size and scope of it all.
The city extends as far as the eye can see, street upon street upon street. Unrelenting. Tarmac slices through the dense gravity defying buildings that resemble towering pieces of Birthday cake. Or stacks of Lego. I can see the sky above but it doesn’t dominate the scene here. There is too much going on at eye level to compete with any cloud gazing.
The politeness of NYC’s pedestrians is a nice surprise. People walk fast and with purpose. I walked so much that when I returned to Sydney it was commented that I had lost weight. I put it down to the walking. Certainly not the eating and drinking (of which I partook with great enthusiasm).
My brother informed me that NYC has the least problems with obesity in all the cities of USA. I stayed on the 5th floor of a ‘walk up’, which added to the daily exercise regime. Plus the fact that locals don’t own cars (where would they put them?). Hence shopping for food is a daily ritual. Fresh food providores are geared for this. At Agata and Valentina’s (see link below) I saw an entire aisle of chilled fruit salads and chopped fruits ready to go in plastic domed containers. They looked like jewels.
Another surprise is the width of the streets. Walking ‘a few blocks’ can take longer than one estimates.
Surely there’s no other place on the planet where you can have a pedicure at 3am or whatever else takes your fancy. My favourite activities demanded little or no money: hearing a gospel choir sing in Harlem; watching the famous resident of Central Park ‘Pale Male’ http://www.palemale.com/ through a telescope: walking the Highline, a disused railway line that has been converted to a ‘spring meadow’ walkway; seeing local stand-up comics on open mic night at the Comic Strip (see link below).
My week + 1 day in this humming metropolis was enough time to scratch its surface. I will be back for more, for sure. And now 4 weeks back at home and into the routine of work and family life, I am consciously trying to hold on to the childlike sense of wonder that travelling brings. The light is alas disappearing from view. Plotting my next foray into the wider world – whenever that may be – is helping to slow down the process.
I admit I am enjoying sleeping back in my own bed.
My itinerary details are below:
(highly recommended for first timers to New York, my ‘pocket guides’ being veteran New Yorkers)
Thursday 22nd May
Arrive late afternoon from Heathrow via Zurich
Cocktails at the Carlyle Hotel East 76th Street after dinner at home (it was an easy walk from the apartment on East 72nd Street in the hospital district)
We ordered Gin Martini on Tanqueray 10, Passion Royale and Kir Royale
Friday 23rd May
Walk the Highline http://www.thehighline.org/
Detour to Chelsea for donuts and coffee at the Chelsea Hotel
Stroll through the Meatpackers District and then to Union Square
Dinner at Union Square Café http://unionsquarecafe.com/
Get caught in a summer thunderstorm!
Saturday 24th May
Train from Grand Central Station to Cold Spring http://coldspring.com/
Pass Yankee Stadium and West Point Military Academy en route (the train line hugged the Hudson River all the way)
Lunch at Cold Spring Depot http://www.coldspringdepot.com/
Shopping for dinner at Agata and Valentina’s, 1505 First Avenue (Upper East Side) http://www.agatavalentina.com/
Sunday 25th May
Gospel Church in Harlem http://www.greaterrefugetemple.org/
Brunch at the Orsay http://www.orsayrestaurant.com/
Meander through Central Park – softball, boathouse, cello player, roller disco, acapella group, red tailed hawk viewing – http://www.centralparknyc.org/
Shopping at Zabar’s http://www.zabars.com/
Twilight walk up to Carl Shurz Park to watch local dogs having lots of fun http://www.carlschurzparknyc.org/
Monday 26th May
Barney’s Madison Avenue http://www.barneys.com/
Nike 57th Street
Strand Bookshop http://www.strandbooks.com/
Fish’s Eddy http://www.fishseddy.com/
Lunch at The Coffee Shop Union Square http://thecoffeeshopnyc.com/
Walk to Washington Square
Watch Funky Voices performing in the park (and getting sunburnt)
From there walk to Bleeker Street, Spring Street, the Bowery
Shop at Whole Foods on East Houston Street for dinner http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/bowery
Beer at just opened Fools Gold Bar
Bus to 68th street near home from 1st and 1st.
Tuesday 27th May
Walk through: Four Seasons Restaurant (designed by Philip Johnson) Waldorf Astoria, Grand Central Station, Bowling Green, The Battery, World Trade Centre, Ground Zero Memorial Garden, Zucotti Park, Federal Hall (where George Washington’s inauguration took place), and Wall Street.
Then City Hall courthouses and marriage registry, Chinatown, Canal Street, Times Square
Beer and snacks at Beer Culture http://www.beerculturenyc.com/
Samuel J Friedman Theatre to see Casa Valentina by Harvey Fierstein http://www.newyorkcitytheatre.com/theaters/friedmantheater/casa-valentina.php
The Algonquin for a nightcap http://www.algonquinhotel.com/
Wednesday 28th May
The Comic Strip (to see my nephew MC on open mic night)
Thursday 29th May
Window shopping at Bergdorf Goodman http://www.bergdorfgoodman.com/
Rockefeller Building (‘Top of the Rock’) http://www.topoftherocknyc.com/
Lunch with NY friends Hana, Susan and Gideon (and pooches!) in Central Park at Le Pain Quotidien
Visit MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) http://www.moma.org/
Dinner at Spigolo’s http://www.spigolonyc.com/#
Friday 30th June
Madison Square Park and Flatiron Building
Union Square to eat our take out lunch from Pret A Manger
Shopping at Paragon Sports
Farewell New York. Until next time….